Hypertext Meanings and Commentaries from the Encyclopedia of the Self
by Mark Zimmerman
Shiver and shrink at sight of toil and danger, And MAKE the impossibility they fear." - Rowe.
This was the spirit in which the great Dr. Arnold worked; he strove to teach his pupils to rely upon themselves, and develop their powers by their own active efforts, himself merely guiding, directing, stimulating, and encouraging them. "I would far rather," he said, "send a boy to Van Diemen's Land, where he must work for his bread, than send him to Oxford to live in luxury, without any desire in his mind to avail himself of his advantages."
"If there be one thing on earth," he observed on another occasion, "which is truly admirable, it is to see God's wisdom blessing an inferiority of natural powers, when they have been honestly, truly, and zealously cultivated." Speaking of a pupil of this character, he said, "I would stand to that man hat in hand." Once at Laleham, when teaching a rather dull boy,
compelled to work, sometimes as a relief from ENNUI, but in most cases to gratify an instinct which they cannot resist. Some go foxhunting in the English counties, others grouse-shooting on the Scotch hills, while many wander away every summer to climb mountains in
"Every kind of knowledge," said he, "every acquaintance with nature and art, will amuse and strengthen your mind, and I am perfectly pleased that cricket should do the same by your arms and legs; I love to see you excel in exercises of the body, and I think myself that the better half, and much the most agreeable part, of the pleasures of the mind is best enjoyed while one is upon one's legs." But a still more important use of active employment is that referred to by the great divine, Jeremy Taylor. "Avoid idleness," he says, "and fill up all the spaces of thy time with severe and useful employment; for lust easily creeps in at those emptinesses where the soul is unemployed and the body is at ease; for no easy, healthful, idle person was ever chaste if he could be tempted; but of all employments bodily labour is the most useful, and of the greatest benefit for driving away the devil."
they chose to be at the trouble. In study, as in business, energy is the great thing. There must be the "fervet opus": we must not only strike the iron while it is hot, but strike it till it is made hot. It is astonishing how much may be accomplished in self- culture by the energetic and the persevering, who are careful to avail themselves of opportunities, and use up the fragments of spare time which the idle permit to run to waste. Thus
Nothing seems easy, not even walking, that was not difficult at first. The orator whose eye flashes instantaneous fire, and whose lips pour out a flood of noble thoughts, startling by their unexpectedness, and elevating by their wisdom and truth, has learned his secret by patient repetition, and after many bitter disappointments." (29)
Hence it is not enough merely to have books, or to know where to read for information as we want it. Practical wisdom, for the purposes of life, must be carried about with us, and be ready for use at call. It is not sufficient that we have a fund laid up at home, but not a farthing in the pocket: we must carry about with us a store of the current coin of knowledge ready for exchange on all occasions, else we are comparatively helpless when the opportunity for using it occurs.
Though there are those who deceive themselves by putting a false figure before their ciphers, the want of confidence, the want of faith in one's self, and consequently the want of promptitude in action, is a defect of character which is found to stand very much in the way of individual progress; and the reason why so little is done, is generally because so little is attempted.
knowledge, without study and labour, is not education. It occupies but does not enrich the mind. It imparts a stimulus for the time, and produces a sort of intellectual keenness and cleverness; but, without an implanted purpose and a higher object than mere pleasure, it will bring with it no solid advantage. In such cases knowledge produces but a passing impression; a sensation, but no more; it is, in fact, the merest epicurism of intelligence - sensuous, but certainly not intellectual. Thus the best qualities of many minds, those which are evoked by vigorous effort and independent action, sleep a deep sleep, and are often never called to life, except by the rough awakening of sudden calamity or suffering, which, in such cases, comes as a blessing, if it serves to rouse up a courageous spirit that, but for it, would have slept on.
man's daily life, will gradually lead him to exercise his powers on objects outside himself, of greater dignity and more extended usefulness. And still we must labour on; for the work of self- culture is never finished. "To be employed," said the poet Gray, "is to be happy." "It is better to wear out than rust out," said Bishop Cumberland. "Have we not all eternity to rest in?" exclaimed Arnauld. "Repos ailleurs" was the motto of Marnix de St. Aldegonde, the energetic and ever-working friend of William the Silent.
An often quoted expression at this day is that "Knowledge is power;" but so also are fanaticism, despotism, and ambition. Knowledge of itself, unless wisely directed, might merely make bad men more dangerous, and the society in which it was regarded as the
highest good, little better than a pandemonium.
Though we undoubtedly possess great facilities it is nevertheless true, as of old, that wisdom and understanding can only become the possession of individual men by travelling the old road of observation, attention, perseverance, and industry. The possession of the mere materials of knowledge is something very different from wisdom and understanding, which are reached through a higher kind of discipline than that of reading, - which is often but a mere passive reception of other men's thoughts; there being little or no active effort of mind in the transaction. Then how much of our reading is but the indulgence of a sort of intellectual dram- drinking, imparting a grateful excitement for the moment, without the slightest effect in improving and enriching the mind or building up the character. Thus many indulge themselves in the conceit that they are cultivating their minds, when they are only employed in the humbler occupation of killing time, of which perhaps the best that can be said is that it keeps them from doing
Though altogether unskilled in the art of deciphering the literary signs by which principles were denominated upon paper, they yet understood and appreciated, and boldly contended for, the things themselves. Thus the foundations of English liberty were laid by men, who, though illiterate, were nevertheless of the very highest stamp of character. And it must be admitted that the chief object of culture is, not merely to fill the mind with other men's thoughts, and to be the passive recipient of their impressions of things, but to enlarge our individual intelligence, and render us more useful and efficient workers in the sphere of life to which we may be called. Many of our most energetic and useful workers have been but sparing readers. Brindley and Stephenson did not learn to read and write until they reached manhood, and yet they did great works and lived manly lives; John Hunter could barely read or write when he was twenty years old, though he could make tables and chairs with any carpenter in the trade. "I never read," said the great physiologist when lecturing before his class; "this" - pointing to some part of the subject before him - "this is the work that you must study if you wish to become eminent in your profession." When told that one of his contemporaries had charged him with being ignorant of the dead languages, he said, "I would undertake to teach him that on the dead body which he never knew in any language, dead or living."
"When people once fall into the habit of admiring and encouraging ability as such, without reference to moral character – and religious and political opinions are the concrete form of moral character - they are on the highway to all sorts of degradation."
"The pious and just honouring of ourselves," said
A nobleman once contemptuously asked of a sage, "What have you got by all your philosophy?" "At least I have got society in myself," was the wise man's reply.
Surely the world will be sick of this blasphemy." John Sterling, in a like spirit, said:- "Periodicals and novels are to all in this generation, but more especially to those whose minds are still unformed and in the process of formation, a new and more effectual substitute for the plagues of Egypt, vermin that corrupt the wholesome waters and infest our chambers."
"I never go to hear a tragedy," said a gay man once to the Archbishop of
it gradually more insensible."
When Lord Bacon says that "strength of nature in youth passeth over many excesses which are owing a man until he is old," he exposes a physical as well as a moral fact which cannot be too well weighed in the conduct of life. "I assure you," wrote Giusti the Italian to a friend, "I pay a heavy price for existence. It is true that our lives are not at our own disposal. Nature pretends to give them gratis at the beginning, and then sends in her account." The worst of youthful indiscretions is, not that they destroy health, so much as that they sully manhood. The dissipated youth becomes a tainted man; and often he cannot be pure, even if he would. If cure there be, it is only to be found in inoculating the mind with a fervent spirit of duty, and in energetic application to useful
He wished for Voltaire's energy, which he would rather have possessed than his genius. But he had no strength of purpose - nothing but wishes: his life, prematurely exhausted, had become but a heap of broken links. He spoke of himself as a person with one foot in the air. He admitted that he had no principles, and no moral consistency. Hence, with his splendid talents, he contrivedto do nothing; and, after living many years miserable, he died worn out and wretched.
all that the soldier, mutilated on the field of battle, gives her.
Whatever may be the fate of my labours, this example, I hope, will not be lost. I would wish it to serve to combat the species of moral weakness which is THE DISEASE of our present generation; to bring back into the straight road of life some of those enervated souls that complain of wanting faith, that know not what to do, and seek everywhere, without finding it, an object of worship and admiration. Why say, with so much bitterness, that in the world, constituted as it is, there is no air for all lungs - no employment for all minds? Is not calm and serious study there? and is not that a refuge, a hope, a field within the reach of all of us? With it, evil days are passed over without their weight being felt.
With all his great intellectual gifts, he wanted the gift of industry, and was averse to continuous labour. He wanted also the sense of independence, and thought it no degradation to leave his wife and children to be maintained by the brain-work of the noble Southey, while he himself retired to Highgate Grove to discourse transcendentalism to his disciples, looking down contemptuously upon the honest work going forward beneath him amidst the din and smoke of London. With remunerative employment at his command he stooped to accept the charity of friends; and, notwithstanding his lofty ideas of philosophy, he condescended to humiliations from which many a day-labourer would have shrunk. How different in spirit was Southey! labouring not merely at work of his own choice, and at taskwork often tedious and distasteful, but also unremittingly and with the utmost eagerness seeking and storing knowledge purely for the love of it. Every day, every hour had its allotted employment: engagements to publishers requiring punctual fulfilment; the current expenses of a large household duty to provide: for Southey had no crop growing while his pen was idle.
"My ways," he used to say, "are as broad as the king's high-road, and my means lie in an inkstand."
So the skilful mariner obtains his best experience amidst storms and tempests, which train him to self-reliance, courage, and the highest discipline; and we probably own to rough seas and wintry nights the best training of our race of British seamen, who are,
certainly, not surpassed by any in the world.
Thus it often needs a higher discipline and a stronger character to bear up under good fortune than under adverse. Some generous natures kindle and warm with prosperity, but there are many on whom wealth has no such influence. Base hearts it only hardens, making those who were mean and servile, mean and proud. But while prosperity is apt to harden the heart to pride, adversity in a man of resolution will serve to ripen it into fortitude. To use the words of Burke, "Difficulty is a severe instructor, set over us by the supreme ordinance of a parental guardian and instructor, who knows us better than we know ourselves, as He loves us better too.
He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill: our antagonist is thus our helper." Without the necessity of encountering difficulty, life might be easier, but men would be worth less. For trials, wisely improved, train the character, and teach self-help; thus hardship itself may often prove the wholesomest discipline for us, though we recognise it not. When the gallant young Hodson, unjustly removed from his Indian command, felt himself sore pressed down by unmerited calumny and reproach, he yet preserved the courage to say to a friend, "I strive to look the worst boldly in the face, as I would an enemy in the field, and to do my appointed work resolutely and to the best of my ability, satisfied that there is a reason for all; and that even irksome duties well done bring their own reward, and that, if not, still they ARE duties."
Difficulties may intimidate the weak, but they act only as a wholesome stimulus to men of resolution and valour. All experience of life indeed serves to prove that the impediments thrown in the way of human advancement may for the most part be overcome by steady good conduct, honest zeal, activity, perseverance, and above all by a determined resolution to surmount difficulties, and stand up manfully against misfortune.
But by experience a man soon learns that obstacles are to be overcome by grappling with them, - that the nettle feels as soft as silk when it is boldly grasped, - and that the most effective help towards realizing the object proposed is the moral conviction that we can and will accomplish it. Thus difficulties often fall away of themselves before the determination to overcome them.
But indulging in the feeling of discouragement never helped any one over a difficulty, and never will. D'Alembert's advice to the student who complained to him about his want of success in mastering the first elements of mathematics was the right one - "Go on, sir, and faith and strength will come to you."
He also proposed cases to himself, which he argued with as much care as if he had been addressing a jury. Curran began business with the qualification which Lord Eldon stated to be the first requisite for distinction, that is, "to be not worth a shilling."
While working his way laboriously at the bar, still oppressed by the diffidence which had overcome him in his debating club, he was on one occasion provoked by the Judge (Robinson) into making a very severe retort. In the case under discussion, Curran observed "that he had never met the law as laid down by his lordship in any book in his library." "That may be, sir," said the judge, in a contemptuous tone, "but I suspect that YOUR library is very small."
His lordship was notoriously a furious political partisan, the author of several anonymous pamphlets characterised by unusual violence and dogmatism. Curran, roused by the allusion to his straitened circumstances, replied thus; "It is very true, my lord, that I am poor, and the circumstance has certainly curtailed mylibrary; my books are not numerous, but they are select, and I hope they have been perused with proper dispositions. I have prepared myself for this high profession by the study of a few good works, rather than by the composition of a great many bad ones. I am not ashamed of my poverty; but I should be ashamed of my wealth, could I have stooped to acquire it by servility and corruption. If I rise not to rank, I shall at least be honest; and should I ever cease to be so, many an example shows me that an ill-gained elevation, by making me the more conspicuous, would only make me the more universally and the more notoriously contemptible."
his past history, became known to them, they admired him more than ever.
Thus he toiled and battled at the gates of science until his unconquerable perseverance carried everything before it. Before he had attained his nineteenth year he had astonished all the professors in
Taking pleasure in learning, he soon mastered the language. Then he sold his Greek books, and bought Hebrew ones, and learnt that language, unassisted by any instructor, without any hope of fame or reward, but simply following the bent of his genius. He next proceeded to learn the Chaldee, Syriac, and Samaritan dialects. But his studies began to tell upon his health, and brought on disease in his eyes through his long night watchings with his books. Having laid them aside for a time and recovered his health, he went on with his daily work. His character as a tradesman being excellent, his business improved, and his means enabled him to marry, which he did when twenty-eight years old. He determined now to devote himself to the maintenance of his family, and to renounce the luxury of literature; accordingly he sold all his books. He might have continued a working carpenter all his life, had not the chest of tools upon which he depended for subsistence been destroyed by fire, and destitution stared him in the face. He was too poor to buy new tools, so he bethought him of teaching children their letters, - a profession requiring the least possible capital.
His unaffected, simple, and beautiful character gradually attracted friends, and the acquirements of the "learned carpenter" became bruited abroad. Dr. Scott, a neighbouring clergyman, obtained for him the appointment of master of a charity school in
Of the former the Duchess d'Abrantes says, "he had good health, but was in other respects like other boys." Ulysses Grant, the Commander-in-Chief of the United States, was called "Useless Grant" by his mother - he was so dull and unhandy when a boy; and Stonewall Jackson, Lee's greatest lieutenant, was, in his youth, chiefly noted for his slowness. While a pupil at
Slow but sure wins the race. It is perseverance that explains how the position of boys at school is so often reversed in real life; and it is curious to note how some who were then so clever have since become so commonplace; whilst others, dull boys, of whom nothing was expected, slow in their faculties but sure in their pace, have assumed the position of leaders of men. The author of this book, when a boy, stood in the same class with one of the greatest of dunces. One teacher after another had tried his skill upon him and failed. Corporal punishment, the fool's cap, coaxing, and earnest entreaty, proved alike fruitless.
Quickness of parts may even prove a defect, inasmuch as the boy who learns readily will often forget as readily; and also because he finds no need of cultivating that quality of application and perseverance which the slower youth is compelled to exercise, and which proves so valuable an element in the formation of every character. Davy said "What I am I have made myself;" and the same holds true universally.